Beatification of 498 Martyrs of the Spanish Civil War

Source: FSSPX News


The Portuguese cardinal, Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, emphasized that the beatification of these religious killed between 1936 and 1937 by the Spanish Republicans had “an historical importance.” “Martyrs are not the exclusive patrimony of a diocese or a nation (…) but they belong to the whole world and to the universal Church.” “We live in a time when Christians are threatened in their truth, this means that they are either martyrs, i.e. they adhere to the faith of their baptism in a consistent manner, or they adapt themselves,” Cardinal Saraiva Martins explained. “To propose the example of the martyrs means that holiness does not consist in the re-affirmation of values common to all, but in a personal adhesion to Christ.” “We may not be content with a tepid Christian life,” he added.

“To be coherent Christians imposes upon us not to be inhibited before the duty of contributing our share to the common good and of always fashioning society according to justice, by defending -- in a dialogue based on charity -- our convictions concerning the dignity of the human person and of life from its conception until its natural end; concerning a family based on the unique and indissoluble matrimonial union between a man and a woman, and the fundamental right and duty of parents to educate their children; and concerning other issues which are born from the daily experience of the society in which we live,” the cardinal concluded.

The Pope who, in accordance with the rules he has set up, did not celebrate the Ceremony of Beatification, appeared at the window of his apartments for the traditional Sunday Angelus. Addressing himself directly to the Spanish faithful, Benedict XVI declared that the 498 beatified martyrs ought to be an example of “forgiveness for persecutors, inviting us never to cease committing ourselves in favor of mercy, reconciliation, and peaceful coexistence.”

Then he pointed out that “the supreme witness of blood is not an exception reserved for only a few individuals, but a realistic possibility for the entire Christian People.” “Baptism commits Christians to participating courageously in the spreading of the Kingdom of God, if need be cooperating with the sacrifice of life itself,” he continued. “Of course, not everyone is called to martyrdom by bloodshed”  but “the silent and heroic witness of so many Christians who live the Gospel without compromise, doing their duty” is an example to be imitated. “This martyrdom of ordinary life constitutes a particularly important witness in the secularized society of our time. It is the peaceful battle of love which every Christian, like Paul, must fight without flagging: the race to spread the Gospel that involves us until our death,” concluded Benedict XVI.

71 Spanish bishops took part in the Ceremony of Beatification of the 498 martyrs among whom there were: 2 bishops, 24 priests, 462 religious, 3 deacons or seminarians, and 7 lay persons. The Spanish government was represented by the Minister of the Foreign Office, Miguel Angel Moratinos. Seven autonomous Communities of the Iberian Peninsula had sent official delegations. Socialist MP Juan Nadres Torres Mora y Esposa, artisan of the law rehabilitating the victims of the Franco regime, and also a descendant of one of the martyrs, was the leader of the delegation of the Spanish Parliament.

Numerically speaking, the beatification of these 498 martyrs is the most important of all of the Church history. The newly blessed of this October 28 included, the Catholic Church beatified a total of 977 martyrs of the Spanish Civil War and canonized eleven of them. According to the Secretary of the Spanish Bishops’ Conference, Rev. Fr. Juan Antonio Martinez Camino, S.J., the procedure of beatification of some 2,000 other martyrs is under way. He reckons that up to 10,000 martyrs could be proposed for this period of the history of Spain.


A Disputed Beatification

The ceremony took place three days before the Spanish Parliament voted a new law rehabilitating the victims of Francoism and desired by the government of Socialist Prime Minister José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero. The new law will oblige the townships to remove all Francoist symbols from state and civil service buildings, as well as to change street names connected with General Franco’s regime. It also foresees to suppress subventions granted to “private owners”, including the Church, if they did not remove Francoist symbols.

In a manifesto, quoted in the Madrid daily El Pais, an action group made up of 147 Christians organisations, called the ceremony of beatification “untimely and discriminatory,” as long as the Catholic Church does not recognize its errors and ask pardon for having allied herself with Franco. The action group also deplored that the Catholic Church be against the law rehabilitating the victims of Francoism. Among the signatories of this appeal are found popular Christian Community, the movement “We are Church”, Provincial Workers’ Association of Catholic Action, Justice and Peace…

According to Peruvian sociologist Alvaro Castro, quoted by Cipa, for many Spaniards this beatification en masse revives the “myth” of a “true Spain”, that of the military and the Church fighting against an anti-Spain, “that of the Red.” In his opinion, it is in the logic of the lobbying by the Spanish prelate for the beatification of Isabel the Catholic: “The same cleavage is found in Latin America, with a clergy belonging to the ever more present Opus Dei, to the detriment of the ground-level Churches (ground-level communities close to liberation theology (Ed.) and for the benefit of sects.

Historian Julian Casanova, asked by Cipa about a possible canonization of Isabel the Catholic, answered: “I hope the Church will not go that far. In my opinion, it would be a huge historic nonsense, and cruel towards the greatest majority of Latin America. The Catholic Church in Spain, which for a long time had the monopoly of religion must learn to coexist in a multicultural society, with the arrival of 4.5 million immigrants these past years.”


The Bishops’ Response

Invited to answer these criticisms, the president of the Spanish Bishops’ Conference, Bishop Ricardo Blazquez of Bilbao, made no comment, refusing to “enter the dispute.” The bishop’s office merely recalled the pastoral letter written by Bishop Blazquez on October 1, a text in which he noted that “martyrs must not be confused with soldiers who died on the battlefield because they fought against each other, nor with the victims of a political repression, which had been merciless.” Martyrs, assured the Basque bishop, “are not beatified against anybody or with the intention of reopening wounds.”

On the other hand, the Archbishop of Sevilla, in Southern Spain, Cardinal Carlos Amigo Vallejo, spoke strongly against the “Law concerning historical memory” of the Zapatero government. He stated that its objective was only to favor “an ideology and not at all the reconciliation among Spaniards.”

Bishop Carlos Lopez of Salamanca published a communiqué reprinted by Zenit, in which we can read:  “The martyrs were not at war with anyone, and they died leaving a testimony of love and forgiveness for those who were taking their lives for the sole reason that they were Catholics.” With their beatification, “the Church does not want to accuse anyone, but she wants to propose them to today’s believers as models of fidelity, and to our contemporary society, as an invitation to reconciliation and peace through love and limitless forgiveness.” As for the idea that the event may reopen old wounds, the Spanish prelate considers that “beatification, by its very nature, favors reconciliation and the healing of wounds, by showing that in the martyrs’ hearts, these wounds were never opened.” -- Among the martyrs who gave their life during the religious persecution of the years 1934, 1936, and 1937, fifteen came from the province of Salamanca: twelve from the very diocese of Salamanca, and three from that of Ciudad Rodrigo.

On the occasion of a Mass of Thanksgiving celebrated on the day after the beatification in St. Peter’s Basilica, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Secretary of State of the Holy See paid homage to the courageous witness born by the martyrs. In order to understand even better the true Christian meaning of martyrdom, we must let the martyrs themselves speak, he said, and added: “through their example, they left us a testament which at this time we dare not open. However, if we would pay attention to them, their lives would certainly speak to us of the faith, of strength, of courage, and of burning charity, confronted by a culture which, sometimes tries to marginalize and belittle the human and moral values that the Gospel teaches us.”

Cardinal Bertone also wished that the beatifications cause a “vigorous appeal to rekindle the faith and intensify ecclesial communion.” “Their death is, as it were, a stimulant urging us to overcome divisions , give a new life to our social and ecclesial commitment, and seek always the common good, as well as peace and concord.” For the Roman prelate, these martyrs are not “only heroes and personages of a remote time,” and he expressed the wish that “their words and actions speak to us today.” (Sources: Zenit/Cipa/El Pais)